ASHEVILLE – Today’s burning question explores how to recycle your plastics in Asheville and if some are fated for the garbage can! Got a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email Interim Executive Editor Karen Chávez at KChavez@citizentimes.com and your question could appear in an upcoming column.
Question: I read recently that it’s expensive to sort out the plastic that isn’t actually recycled, so better to put those items in the regular garbage and landfill. What’s the truth about that here in Asheville? How much plastic (up to what number in the little triangle) is actually recycled, and would the sanitation department prefer that we put the higher digit stuff in garbage cans?
Answer: If you peruse your kitchen for plastic items, flipping them over to check the bottom, you’re likely to find a little raised insignia — a number within the triangular recycling symbol, which indicates what kind of plastic the material is made of. Numbers range from 1-7. It’s so commonplace, it’s easy to miss.
And Jes Foster, Sanitation Division Manager says, in Asheville in least, you can keep missing it.
“‘Recycling by numbers’ is not really how it’s done anymore and it is not a great guideline for what to recycle,” Foster told the Citizen Times in an email. “As an example, a plastic grocery bag and a milk jug can both be #2, but both aren’t recyclable in your curbside cart. For plastics, the best guideline for curbside recycling is by shape: bottles, tubs, jugs, jars.”
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She deferred to Nancy Lawson, co-owner of Curbside Recycling in Woodfin, for more. Known as Curbie, the company is the recycling collector and processor for Asheville and handles most of the recycling for the area.
Lawson stressed that everything on their accepted recycling list is recycled. Meaning, there is a home for it. This list can be found on their website.
She said Curbie has “end-users” for all plastic bottles, jugs, tubs and jars.
“(Foster) is correct that we’re moving away from the numbers and classifying it by the shape of the plastic,” Lawson said. There are always exceptions to every rule, she added: “We do not accept Styrofoam (#6), black microwaveable trays, to-go containers, plastic clam shells nor any plastic film or bags.”
Lawson said a large part of the confusion usually starts when someone reads a national article concerning recycling.
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“What you can and cannot recycle is 100% dependent on whether or not your local company has a factory or manufacturer close by that will take what is sorted and separated and make it into something else,” Lawson said. In this case, close by is within a five to six hour radius.
These manufacturers are what is known as the “end user.” They are who determines what may or may not be accepted into their recycling program.
“General articles on what is recycled nationally do not always correlate to what we are experiencing here in this area,” she said.
What to do with an item if you’re not sure?
Foster encouraged residents to check out the guidelines on the city website and elsewhere.
“If an item is not on our curbside recycling list, then it definitely should not go into the curbside recycling cart,” Foster said.
“‘Wishcycling’ (wishful recycling) is costly to our recycling processor in terms of both time and labor to sort out improper materials and cost to dispose of the material — and in turn, those costs are passed on to the City and our residents through our recycling contract with the processor. Items not on the recycling list should go into the trash, or readers can search the Waste Wizard for potential alternative recycling outlets.”
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More information on what is recyclable can be found at curbie.com. Other lists of recyclable material are available on the city’s website at ashevillenc.gov/recycling. For more specific questions, Foster recommends checking the Waste Wizard at ashevillenc.gov/AVLcollects or on the AVL Collects app.
At the site, you can type in what item you want to know about and it will tell you where and how to dispose of or recycle it.
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For example, plastic shopping bags are typically accepted by area Ingles Markets or Walmart.
Asheville GreenWorks regularly holds volunteer-driven, free-to-the-public Hard 2 Recycle events where they accept items that can’t be recycled through the city, such as books, electronics, food grade Styrofoam and printer cartridges. More information can be found at ashevillegreenworks.org/hard2recycle.
Curbie has a customer service representatives that can answer specific questions at 828-252-2532.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email email@example.com or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.